LEAMINGTON, Ontario — Peter Quiring thought if he built it, they would buy it.
That’s part of the reason the owner of South Essex Fabricating Inc., the dominant greenhouse manufacturer in Ontario, is now running 98 acres of his own in Leamington.
With a passion for high-technology greenhouse operations that utilize developments from around the globe, Quiring constructed the first greenhouse of his own in 2000.
Ten years later, he just completed phase four, and has plans for phase five within the year.
“We’re the biggest privately owned farm in Canada that I know of,” Quiring said.
Quiring’s operation, Nature Fresh, has made a name for itself as a dominant Ontario pepper grower, with red, yellow and orange peppers in production on 67 acres.
The newest 31 acres, finished Jan. 7, bring the company into the tomato category, as well, with on-the-vine cluster tomatoes.
“We need a mix,” Quiring said early January. “We’re talking to the bank now about another 32 acres for next year.”
Also new is the company’s focus on marketing its own greenhouse vegetables, instead of only growing for shippers around town.
“We want to do real marketing, aggressive marketing, just-in-time deliveries,” Quiring said. “The biggest thing is we have to get buy-in from the retail side, but we seem to be getting pretty good reception.”
For the time being, Quiring still plans to pack and sell to local marketers, as well, under their brands.
To help develop its new marketing focus, Quiring hired Cory Robertson to handle marketing and communications. Robertson has a background in radio and television, most recently as a radio programmer and on-air talent for CHYR-FM.
“I was running the operations of a branch, all marketing, public relations, branding and imaging,” Robertson said.
“It wasn’t only music and on-air personalities, but also helping clients develop their image.”
One of Robertson’s first tasks is to do some brand creation and development to take Nature Fresh down the road.
This year, Nature Fresh started planting bell peppers the week of Dec. 21.
“It’s earlier than some, but later than what we used to do,” Quiring said. “Because of energy and light levels, we decided to roll back about three weeks. When the daylight’s only 8:30-4:30, plants just don’t do much.”
Unlike some of its neighbors down the road, Quiring has no intention of supplementing his marketing plan with Mexican produce.
“There are some problems with offshore product, especially that grown in shade houses,” Quiring said. “Nature Fresh represents absolutely only Canadian product but never Mexican.”
Quiring said if he ever builds in the U.S., he would bring in product from the U.S.
“If we can get our heads around some of this technology, like lighting, we should be able to go year-round,” Quiring said.
The high-technology atmosphere doesn’t stop with the growing.
Every greenhouse is also equipped with a labor tracking system that tracks employee numbers, row numbers, bin numbers and job numbers. Nature Fresh also uses Global Trade Item Numbers for traceability.
“We bar code every pepper,” Quiring said. “Every box everyday is coded as well. Every skid, as well, which is something new we’re doing this year.”
Traceback could happen within half a day if necessary, Quiring said.
As he’s developing his own marketing business, Quiring remains heavily involved in nearly every aspect of greenhouse growing somehow.
His company worked on building projects for Kingsville-based Mastronardi Produce and Mucci Pac International Inc. this year, and Quiring sits on the board of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association.